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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The story centers around a young protagonist, Wilbur, who, naturally, must go through the growing pains that come with being young and growing up. Wilbur is close to Fern, who is also young and growing up with him. Before Wilbur even learns about the weight of life or death, he has to navigate early life. Wilbur begins entirely dependent on Fern, and then has to go through the hardship of separation from the person closest to him. This brings on boredom and weariness in life that he must learn to work through. As he works through his loneliness, he faces the sadness of rejection of friendships. Although these are not life and death struggles, they are important to Wilbur and deeply impact him. Young Fern chooses to be close friends with the animals, resulting in questioning and concern from her mother. She faces expectations of her mother to interact with peers in a certain way and fails at the beginning to live up to the way she is supposed to behave.
The difficulties of growing up is acknowledged through the comfort the characters and those around them seek and receive. Although Wilbur is lonely, Charlotte befriends him and patiently teaches him in the midst of his childish ways. Charlotte scolds Wilbur for reacting to news in childish ways, but still comforts him by letting him know that he is not alone in the midst of the turmoil and fear. Indirectly, Fern receives support through her father and Dr. Dorian who comfort her mother. Although Fern does not act the way her mother thinks she should act, her mother is comforted that the doctor believes Fern is behaving appropriately for her age. She is further comforted when Fern later begins to prefer spending time with people over animals.
From the very first line, the threat of death is present in the story. The protagonist, Wilbur, is saved by the passionate pleas of Fern, who is disturbed by the prospect of an unjust death. She appeals to her father’s compassion, who is torn by the effect allowing Fern to save Wilbur now might have on her later. Fern’s mother and father are pragmatic and know the reality of animals being slaughtered for food, but they are also moved by similar compassion toward the young animal and a desire to shield Fern from the pain of death rather than expose her to it. As Wilbur grows and learns about his potential death, he is met with pity by the other animals in the barn as they recognize his sad fate.
Wilbur eventually becomes admired and set apart and manages to avoid being slaughtered. However, he still does not escape the effects of death. While Wilbur gains the security of not being slaughtered, Charlotte dies. Though it is ironic that in the avoidance of death someone still dies, Charlotte’s death reveals one of the hard realities of life.
The characters in the story are marked and influenced by the importance of friendship. Friendship is highlighted among the characters as a reason for hope and an essential part of thriving. The reader sees this theme emerge in Wilbur’s life first with Fern and then with Charlotte. Fern saves Wilbur from being killed and they quickly become companions. Wilbur then follows Fern around and plays with her, giving his life joy and meaning. When he moves to the barn, he is bored and upset with life until he makes a new friend. When he is introduced to Charlotte, he feels hope again. Friendship is highlighted in this way as a reason for hope.
The importance of friendship is also highlighted through Fern’s life and relationships. Just as Wilbur finds joy in his friendship with Fern, Fern enjoys friendship with Wilbur. In fact, Fern considers the animals at the barn to be her best friends. She is clearly at ease in the barn as all the animals have come to trust and be comfortable around her. Fern’s mother acknowledges the value of friendship and worries that Fern may be missing something by being so devoted to the animals.
Ultimately, deep friendship proves to be the method in which the primary conflict is solved. Wilbur is saved from death through the sacrificing love of his friend, Charlotte. While Charlotte gives Wilbur hope and comfort, her consistency in making webs ultimately saves him. Wilbur asks Charlotte why she helped him and built the webs, even when she was getting weak, and she tells him it is because he is her friend.